Rare bid to repeal war resolution advanced by U.S. Senate committee

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee backed legislation on Wednesday that would repeal congressional authorizations for past wars with Iraq, a significant step in lawmakers’ effort to wrest back the power to declare war from the White House.

The 20-member panel backed the measure by voice vote with support from members of both parties, although at least seven Republicans asked to be recorded as “no” votes.

The committee’s action sent the joint resolution to the full Senate, where it is strongly supported by Democrats and backers say it is expected to garner enough Republican support to win the 60 votes needed for passage.

Senate Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he planned a vote this year. “The Iraq War has been over for nearly a decade. An authorization passed in 2002 is no longer necessary in 2021,” Schumer said as he opened the Senate on Wednesday.

The legislation would repeal Authorizations for the Use of Military Force (AUMFs) passed in 1991 and 2002 for wars against Iraq under Saddam Hussein. Proponents of repeal argued that Iraq’s current government should be treated as a U.S. partner, not an enemy.

The House of Representatives backed repeal in June.

President Joe Biden’s administration supports the repeal, which is moving through Congress as opinion polls show Americans are weary of years of “forever wars” in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere against militant groups.

Opponents said repeal would send a message of weakness in a volatile region. “I really believe that it would be a bad message to send… that we’re backing away from this,” said Senator Jim Risch, the top Foreign Relations Republican.

Democratic Senator Tim Kaine, a leader of the repeal effort, listed 10 reasons to vote yes. Among others, he called repeal a step toward Congress taking seriously “its most solemn responsibility” to send troops into combat, and prevent serious abuses in the future.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Howard Goller)

Obamacare repeal must move quickly, says Senate’s McConnell

Activists participate in a rally to protect the Affordable Care Act outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate’s top Republican on Tuesday urged quick action on a bill to repeal Obamacare but stopped short of promising to bring it to the Senate floor for a vote, as the clock ticks down on the latest attempt to kill the 2010 healthcare law.

Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s Republican leader, called the legislation drafted by senators Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy “an intriguing idea and one that has a great deal of support.”

Lawmakers should act because “our opportunity to do so may well pass us by if we don’t act soon,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.

The bill has revived a fight that many in Washington thought was over when an Obamacare repeal-and-replace bill flopped in the Senate in July, humiliating McConnell and President Donald Trump.

The latest measure has less than two weeks before procedural rules in the Senate make it much more difficult for the Republicans to do away with Obamacare.

The bill proposes replacing Obamacare with a system that would give states money in block grants to run their own healthcare programs and let them opt out of some Obamacare rules. Critics say it would bring deep cuts to the Medicaid program for the poor and higher insurance premiums for older people.

“Graham-Cassidy would be devastating for individuals with pre-existing conditions,” the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank in Washington, said in a statement.

McConnell stopped short of promising to bring the legislation to the Senate floor. But he said Republican lawmakers would continue to discuss it. He has been meeting with lawmakers to assess whether the bill has the votes to pass.

The proposal is the latest salvo in a long-running Republican war on Obamacare, and Graham and Cassidy say they are close to securing the votes needed for passage.

If approved, it would replace the 2010 Affordable Care Act, known informally as Obamacare, which Republicans have long seen as government overreach into the healthcare business.

Several Republicans – the same ones whose votes blocked repeal of Obamacare in July – are still undecided on the latest bill and time is running out.

A special parliamentary procedure that would allow the bill to move forward with only 51 votes will expire at the end of the month. After that, it would need 60 votes, like most Senate legislation. Republicans have a 52-vote Senate majority.

The Senate Finance Committee said it will hold a hearing on the bill next week.

If the Senate can pass the bill, “the hope would be that the House would take it up and pass it and the president sign it,” said John Cornyn, the No. 2 Senate Republican.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said Republicans were “grossly irresponsible” to consider legislation before even getting a full assessment of its impacts from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.

(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan and Amanda Becker; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Alistair Bell)

Republican effort to gut Obamacare crashes in U.S. Senate

The United States Capitol is seen prior to an all night round of health care votes on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 27, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

By Yasmeen Abutaleb, Amanda Becker and David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. Senate led by Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans failed by a single vote to pass a healthcare bill on Friday, delivering a stinging blow to the president as it undermined his campaign promise to dismantle Obamacare.

Three Republican senators – John McCain, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski – joined Senate Democrats in the dramatic early-morning 51-49 vote rejecting the bill. The outcome may spell doom for the party’s seven-year quest to gut a 2010 law that was Democratic former President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement.

For the moment the Affordable Care Act, which extended health insurance to 20 million people and drove the percentage of uninsured people to historic lows, remains in place and must be run by an administration that is hostile to it.

This leaves health insurers unsure how long the administration will continue to make billions of dollars in Obamacare payments that help cover out-of-pocket medical expenses for low-income Americans.

In Friday’s vote, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was unsuccessful in securing passage of even a stripped-down so-called skinny bill that would have repealed a few key parts of Obamacare. Broader legislation was defeated earlier in the week.

“It’s time to move on,” McConnell, whose reputation as a master strategist was in tatters, said on the Senate floor after the vote that unfolded at roughly 1:30 a.m.

“The American people are going to regret that we couldn’t find a better way forward,” McConnell added.

Republicans have long denounced Obamacare – which expanded the Medicaid health insurance for the poor and disabled and created online marketplaces for individuals to obtain coverage – as an intrusion by government on people’s healthcare decisions.

The Senate failure to move forward on dismantling it called into question the Republican Party’s basic ability to govern even as it controls the White House, Senate and House of Representatives.

Trump has not had a major legislative victory after more than six months in office. He had promised to get major healthcare legislation, tax cuts and a boost in infrastructure spending through Congress in short order.

“3 Republicans and 48 Democrats let the American people down. As I said from the beginning, let Obamacare implode, then deal. Watch!” Trump wrote on Twitter after the vote.

But McCain wrote on Twitter, “Skinny repeal fell short because it fell short of our promise to repeal & replace Obamacare w/ meaningful reform.”

Republicans released the skinny bill just three hours before voting began. It would have retroactively repealed Obamacare’s penalty on individuals who do not obtain health insurance, repealed for eight years a penalty on certain businesses that do not provide employees with insurance and repealed a tax on medical devices until 2020. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that if it became law, 15 million fewer Americans would be insured in 2018 than under existing law.

The Affordable Care Act was passed by a then-Democratic controlled Congress with no Republican support in 2010. But Republicans have failed to come up with a consensus plan to replace it at a time when they hold all the power in Washington.


Health insurers have until September to finalize their 2018 health plans in many Obamacare marketplaces.

Some insurers, including Humana and Aetna, have pulled out of such markets, citing the uncertainty over the payments. Others have raised rates by double digits and said that they will need to raise rates another 20 percent if the uncertainty does not ease. Anthem Inc, which has already left three of the 14 states where it sells Blue Cross Blue Shield plans, said this week it might pull out of more.

Wall Street traded lower on Friday with less focus on the news from the Senate overnight and more on key earnings from Amazon and Exxon. Shares of hospitals were mixed: Tenet Healthcare fell 2 percent, Community Health Systems was nearly flat and HCA Healthcare gained 1.2 percent. Shares of health insurers were also mixed. Aetna was off 0.2 percent, Anthem gained 0.4 percent and Humana was off 0.3 percent.

Democrats, and some Republicans, said the bill’s failure could present an opportunity for the two parties to work together to fix problematic areas of the Obamacare law without repealing it.

Top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi called on Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan to establish a process for moving forward on improving Obamacare, rather than repealing it.

After the House passed a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare in May, McConnell grappled to get Senate Republicans to agree on their version of the bill. Hard-line conservatives wanted a bill that would substantially gut Obamacare, while moderates were concerned over legislation that could deprive millions of people of their healthcare coverage.

Republicans hold a 52-48 majority in the 100-seat Senate and could afford to lose support from only two Republican senators, with Vice President Mike Pence ready to cast a tie-breaking vote on the Senate floor.


As the vote on the skinny bill approached, all eyes in the Senate chamber were on McCain. The 2008 Republican presidential nominee flew back from Arizona earlier in the week after being diagnosed this month with brain cancer. McCain, an 80-year-old former prisoner of war in Vietnam who tangled with Trump during the 2016 election campaign and was disparaged by him, won praise for this from the president.

McCain, a veteran senator who has long been known for his independent streak, delivered a rousing speech on Tuesday calling for cooperation between the parties and then cast a decisive vote in allowing the Senate to take up the healthcare bill.

Early on Friday, he sat on the Senate floor talking to Collins, Murkowski, and Republican Senator Jeff Flake, also from Arizona. Collins and Murkowski both voted this week against broader Republican healthcare proposals, and both had concerns about the pared-down proposal.

McCain was approached before voting began by Pence and a close friend, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. After speaking to them, McCain walked across the Senate floor to tell top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer and other Democrats he would vote with them.

When McCain walked to the front of the Senate chamber to cast his deciding “no” vote, giving a thumbs down, Democrats cheered, knowing the bill would fail.

Trump had often expressed exasperation over the failure of congressional Republicans to overcome internal divisions to repeal Obamacare, but offered no policy specifics himself.

He has demanded at various times that Obamacare should be allowed to collapse on its own, that it should be repealed without replacement, and that it should be repealed and replaced.

(Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell, Richard Cowan and Eric Walsh in Washington, Saikat Chatterjee and Abhinav Ramnarayan in London; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Louise Ireland and Frances Kerry)

North Carolina lawmakers reach deal to repeal transgender bathroom law

A sign protesting a North Carolina law restricting transgender bathroom access. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

(Reuters) – North Carolina Republican lawmakers said late on Wednesday they had reached a deal to repeal the state’s controversial law prohibiting transgender people from using restrooms in accordance with their gender identities.

The compromise, reached with Democratic Governor Roy Cooper and set to go before the legislature for a vote Thursday morning, would still ban local municipalities, schools and others from regulating bathroom access.

It would also effectively forbid cities from offering their own job and restroom protections to vulnerable groups for nearly four years.

“Compromise requires give and take from all sides, and we are pleased this proposal fully protects bathroom safety and privacy,” the state’s top Republican lawmakers, Senate leader Phil Berger and House of Representatives Speaker Tim Moore, said in a statement released late Wednesday.

The pair announced the deal at an impromptu news conference.

The compromise with Cooper, a staunch opponent of the bathroom law, was reached hours before the state was reportedly set to lose its ability to host any NCAA basketball championships.

The college athletic association is one of numerous organizations to sanction or boycott North Carolina in the wake of the law’s passage last year.

Cooper said earlier this week that the measure could end up costing the state nearly $4 billion.

He said he supported the compromise. “It’s not a perfect deal, but it repeals House Bill 2 and begins to repair our reputation.”

But it remained unclear whether the compromise would be acceptable to those who believe North Carolina was unfriendly to the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

In an impassioned news conference before the deal was announced, several leading LGBT activists decried its provisions, including the bar on municipalities regulating employment practices and “public accommodations”.

“This is a dirty deal,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign. He vowed to continue fighting North Carolina in court and in the public sphere if the new measure passes and is signed by Cooper.

On Twitter Wednesday night, San Francisco-based Levi Strauss & Co., which has publicly opposed North Carolina’s transgender bathroom law, urged lawmakers to reject what it called a “backroom” deal.

(This version of the story corrects Griffin quote in paragraph 12, replacing “bill” with “deal”)

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

U.S. Republican senator introduces Obamacare repeal resolution

The federal government forms for applying for health coverage are seen at a rally held by supporters of the Affordable Care Act, widely referred to as "Obamacare", outside the Jackson-Hinds Comprehensive Health Center in Jackson, Mississippi, U.S

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republican U.S. Senator Mike Enzi introduced on Tuesday a resolution allowing for the repeal of President Barack Obama’s signature health insurance program, which provides coverage to millions of Americans, Enzi’s office said in a statement.

The move by the Senate’s budget committee chairman on the first day of the new Congress set in motion the Republican majority’s promise to repeal the 2010 Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, as its first major legislative item.

Republicans have said the repeal process could take months and that developing replacement health insurance plans could take years.

More than 20 million previously uninsured Americans gained health coverage through Obamacare. Coverage was extended by expanding the Medicaid program for the poor and through online exchanges where consumers can receive income-based subsidies.

Republicans have launched repeated courtroom and legislative efforts to dismantle the law, criticizing it as government overreach. Democrats have scoffed at Republicans’ plans, accusing them of never having united around a replacement strategy.

The Republicans are using a budget resolution to provide for Obamacare’s repeal, allowing them to act without any Democratic votes. Budget resolutions require a simple majority to pass in the Senate, instead of the 60 votes normally required to clear procedural hurdles. There are 52 Republicans in the 100-seat chamber.

The budget resolution contains so-called reconciliation instructions, directing committees to dismantle Obamacare as part of reconciling taxes and spending with the budget blueprint – and to report back to the budget committee by Jan. 27.

A Senate vote on the resolution could come next week, with action in the House of Representatives expected to follow. But the repeal process won’t be complete until the committees finish the reconciliation procedure and votes are taken on their work.

“These instructions to committees are provided to facilitate immediate action on repeal, with the intent of sending legislation to the new president’s desk as soon as possible,” the statement from Enzi’s office said.

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump repeatedly vowed during last year’s presidential campaign to repeal Obamacare.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Bill Trott and Paul Simao)

North Carolina rebuffs transgender bathroom law repeal

Lawmakers confer during a negotiations on the floor of North Carolina's State Senate chamber as they meet to consider repealing the controversial HB 2 law

By Marti Maguire

RALEIGH, N.C. (Reuters) – North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature on Wednesday rejected a bid to repeal a state law restricting bathroom access for transgender people, which has drawn months of protests and boycotts by opponents decrying the measure as discriminatory.

A one-day special legislative session ended abruptly after the state Senate voted against abolishing a law that has made North Carolina the latest U.S. battleground over lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights.

The repeal legislation was rejected 32-16, leaving the bathroom restrictions in place statewide. The rejection followed Republican-led political maneuvering that tied repeal to a second provision that would have temporarily banned cities from affirming transgender bathroom rights.

Democratic Senator Jeff Jackson said the repeal effort failed because Republicans reneged on their deal to bring the measure to a floor vote with no strings attached.

The moratorium on municipal bathroom regulations, described by Jackson as a “poison pill,” withered Democratic support, and in the end all 16 Senate Democrats joined 16 Republicans in voting against repeal. Another 16 Republicans voted for it.

The Senate then adjourned without acting on the temporary municipal ban. The state’s House of Representatives had already called it quits.

Democratic Governor-elect Roy Cooper accused Republican leaders of back-peddling on an agreement ironed out in lengthy negotiations. He said both chambers had the votes for a full repeal, but divisions within the Republican Party killed it.

“The Republican legislative leaders have broken their word to me, and they have broken their trust with the people of North Carolina,” he said.

Senate Republican leader Phil Berger earlier defended the proposal to link repeal with temporary municipal restrictions as a genuine attempt at compromise, citing “the passion and disagreement surrounding this issue.”

After the vote, outgoing Republican Governor Pat McCrory blamed “well-funded left-wing interest groups” that he said “sabotaged bipartisan good faith agreements for political purposes.”


Earlier in the week, McCrory had called the special session to consider scrapping the law, which passed in March and made North Carolina the first state to bar transgender people from using public restrooms that match their gender identity.

Supporters of the statute, known as House Bill 2 (HB 2), have cited traditional values and a need for public safety, while opponents called it mean-spirited, unnecessary and a violation of civil liberties.

The national backlash was swift and fierce, leading to boycotts that have been blamed for millions of dollars in economic losses for the state as events, such as business conferences and the National Basketball Association’s 2017 All-Star Game, were moved out of North Carolina.

The pushback contributed to McCrory’s razor-thin defeat in a fall re-election bid against Cooper, an opponent of the law.

HB 2 was enacted largely in response to a local measure in Charlotte that protected the rights of transgender people to use public bathrooms of their choice.

The Charlotte City Council on Monday repealed its ordinance as a prelude to the state repealing HB 2.

Civil liberties and LGBT rights groups condemned the outcome, accusing the legislature of breaking its promise to do away with HB 2.

“It is a shame that North Carolina’s General Assembly is refusing to clean up the mess they made,” said James Esseks, an American Civil Liberties Union executive.

The North Carolina Values Coalition hailed the legislature for upholding the law and refusing to give in to “demands of greedy businesses, immoral sports organizations or angry mobs.”

(Additional reporting by David Ingram; Writing by Letitia Stein, Daniel Trotta and Steve Gorman; Editing by Tom Brown, G Crosse and Lisa Shumaker)